Could The Media Have Prevented The Rise Of Donald Trump?

There is no longer an Edward Murrow or Walter Cronkite to stand up to Donald Trump

Could mainstream television, radio, print and internet journalism outlets have done more to prevent the rise of Donald Trump? And should they have done more?

Glenn Greenwald thinks so:

Actually, many people are alarmed [by the rise of Trump], but it is difficult to know that by observing media coverage, where little journalistic alarm over Trump is expressed. That’s because the rules of large media outlets — venerating faux objectivity over truth along with every other civic value — prohibit the sounding of any alarms. Under this framework of corporate journalism, to denounce Trump, or even to sound alarms about the dark forces he’s exploiting and unleashing, would not constitute journalism. To the contrary, such behavior is regarded as a violation of journalism. Such denunciations are scorned as opinion, activism, and bias: all the values that large media-owning corporations have posited as the antithesis of journalism in order to defang and neuter it as an adversarial force.

[..] This abdication of the journalistic duty inevitably engendered by corporate “neutrality” rules is not new. We saw it repeatedly during the Bush years, when most large media outlets suppressed journalistic criticism of things like torture and grotesque war crimes carried out by the U.S. as part of the war on terror, and even changed their language by adopting government euphemisms to obscure what was being done. Outlets such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and NPR refused to use the word “torture” to describe techniques long universally recognized as such — which were always called torture by those same media outlets when used by countries adversarial to the U.S. — because to do so would evince “bias,” lack “neutrality,” and “take sides” in the torture debate.

Contrary to what U.S. media corporations have succeeded in convincing people, these journalistic neutrality rules are not remotely traditional. They are newly invented concepts that coincided with the acquisition of the nation’s most important media outlets by large, controversy-averse corporations for which “media” was just one of many businesses.

I’m not so sure.

While Greenwald is absolutely right to chastise mainstream media outlets for clinging desperately to an “appearance of objectivity at all costs” dogma which routinely sees them humiliate themselves by speaking and writing about the utterly ridiculous as though it were merely an equal and opposing side to an argument, the idea that prestige nightly news anchors could have killed Trump’s candidacy in the crib either by initially declaring it ridiculous and mocking it, or by waging an Edward Murrow or Walter Cronkite crusade against him, seems to be wishful thinking.

It’s wrong because it underestimates the anti-establishment surge now underway in America (and in Britain too, as we saw with the rise of UKIP and the SNP). Suppose that mainstream news outlets like the New York Times, NBC, NPR and others had come out strongly to argue that Donald Trump’s ideas were outside the Overton window of “acceptable” political thought in America, and that he should henceforth be ignored by the media regardless of how many people were attending his rallies or how high he climbed in the opinion polls. What difference would it have made?

Political journalism is scorned by the public as much as Washington politics itself, and often for quite valid reasons – the incestuous, back-scratching relationship between the two is often entirely self serving and actively prevents the holding of government to proper account. Trump’s candidacy is fuelled in significant part by the opposition of those opinion columnists and TV talking heads who have come out to criticise him. If they were joined by everyone else, including news anchors and print journalists whose material does not appear in the opinion section of their television shows or newspapers, it is hard to see it doing anything other than confirming the suspicion of Trump fans that the “establishment” is out to get them, thus driving his poll ratings even higher.

This is important. Trump is riding high partly because of a small group of “let it burn” conservatives who believe that Washington is so corrupt that an authoritarian outsider beholden to no one is as good a choice as any to sweep out the garbage, but mostly because Trump supporters feel ignored and patronised by almost everybody else. And frankly, the opposition to Trump in the media has not helped, tending toward hand-wringing “ooh, isn’t he evil” editorials and one-sided accounts of violence at his campaign rallies rather than granular deconstructions of his policy proposals (such as his policies exist). Increasing the frequency and volume of the existing anti-Trump media coverage will not fix the problem, because it does little to tackle the sentiments and ideas which drive his support.

But more to the point, if we are to set arbitrary limits on our political discourse, beyond which any candidate promoting “unacceptable” ideas is rounded on by the corporate media as it is currently comprised, who gets to set the limits? Who gets to decide which ideas are okay to debate, and which are traps which will bring the entire media establishment crashing down on the person who dares to raise them?

There is almost nothing as infuriating as watching high profile journalists discuss an issue where one side obviously has the moral and intellectual high ground in terms that suggest that it is a finely balanced debate – witness the debates on torture, climate change, Brexit (UK secession from the European Union)  and more. But even worse than this would be a collusion between media outlets to freeze out certain ideas or candidates from being mentioned altogether because they are “evil” or contradict prevailing orthodoxies.

I’m sure that this is not what Greenwald has in mind. As a consistent advocate of free speech, I’m sure that he would prefer a brash and lively media landscape of much more fractured ownership, in which a multitude of independent news outlets are free to carry out the kind of unabashedly partisan campaigning journalism that Greenwald (and to some extent this blog) advocates. Greenwald would likely be fine if some outlets produced coverage very supportive of Trump, so long as other outlets were equally free to oppose him.

But we do not have such a media landscape right now, and moving in this direction would be a process taking years, not months – certainly too long of a timescale to have any impact on the rise of Donald Trump. The difficult truth is that given the hysterical, rabble-rousing behaviour of the Republican Party over the course of the Obama presidency – in which they chose hyperbolic, apocalyptic scaremongering over principled opposition to bigger government – there was nothing that could have prevented the monster they created from coming to life, breaking free of its chains and devouring them, as Trump is now doing.

It may feel good to imagine an American media landscape filled with luminaries like Edward Morrow and Walter Cronkite, journalists who would have taken one look at Donald Trump back when he launched his presidential bid, and masterfully snuffed it out in the course of one withering nightly news broadcast or newspaper column. But that is not the world we live in. Any attempt by major media outlets to scrutinise or inveigh against Trump in these anti-establishment times would only have fuelled his campaign even more than his many critics already have.

“Compelled journalistic neutrality” is not to blame for the rise of Donald Trump. Though corporate media has many faults – witness CBS chairman Les Moonves enthusing about the ratings Donald Trump’s presidential campaign is bringing to his network – they did not create the Trumpian monster, and nor can they stop it.

Far more deserving of blame are the Republican Party establishment, who shamelessly and hypocritically rode the anti-establishment, anti-Obama tiger for seven years before finally it turned on them. And also at fault is an entire remote and self-serving political establishment which in many ways thoroughly deserves the kicking it is now receiving – just not by Donald Trump, the opportunistic and undeserving current beneficiary.

Would it be a cathartic experience to witness more mainstream media types casting objectivity aside and coming out against Trump? Quite possibly. But would it have done anything to stop his rise? Let’s not kid ourselves.

 

Postscript – The following is an excerpt from Edward R. Murrow’s famous report on Senator Joseph McCarthy:

Earlier, the Senator asked, “Upon what meat does this, our Caesar, feed?” Had he looked three lines earlier in Shakespeare’s Caesar, he would have found this line, which is not altogether inappropriate: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”

No one familiar with the history of this country can deny that congressional committees are useful. It is necessary to investigate before legislating, but the line between investigating and persecuting is a very fine one and the junior Senator from Wisconsin has stepped over it repeatedly. His primary achievement has been in confusing the public mind, as between the internal and the external threats of Communism. We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men — not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular.

This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy’s methods to keep silent, or for those who approve. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of a republic to abdicate his responsibilities. As a nation we have come into our full inheritance at a tender age. We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom, wherever it continues to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.

The actions of the junior Senator from Wisconsin have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad, and given considerable comfort to our enemies. And whose fault is that? Not really his. He didn’t create this situation of fear; he merely exploited it — and rather successfully. Cassius was right. “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”

Good night, and good luck.

 

Donald Trump - Make America Great Again - Hat

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Don’t Blame Anti-Establishment Politicians For Vile Online Abuse

Internet Troll - Cyber Online Abuse

Taking offence in the behaviour of a politician’s online supporters says a lot more about your view of that particular politician than the uniquely “hateful” nature of their fans

What do Jeremy Corbyn, Nicola Sturgeon, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and Nigel Farage all have in common?

Nothing to do with their political views, obviously – you would be hard pressed to imagine four more different politicians, both in terms of style and substance. But they do share something more fundamental in common: the fact that their supporters are uniquely derided as being angry and intemperate, even sexist or racist trolls, especially when compared to the supporters of their more established rivals.

How many times have you heard a wounded, thin-skinned Westminster media type complain in hurt tones that they have received “vile online abuse” from crusading Ukippers or SNP-supporting Cybernats? And this is nearly always followed by the accusatory observation that the journalist or media star in question has never been so insulted or abused by supporters of the other mainstream parties or candidates.

You have likely seen or read this lament numerous times in one form or another. Typically, they will conclude – either explicitly or by inference – that there must be something uniquely awful and unacceptable about that particular party or candidate’s views, something which either attracts a disproportionate number of crazy people, or else makes otherwise good people behave in reprehensible ways.

Here’s the Telegraph’s James Kirkup raising an eyebrow after receiving a less than loving and nurturing response from online UKIP supporters, in a piece rather preciously titled “Why are UKIP supporters so rude and horrible?”:

A brief glance through the comments sections of the Telegraph website will show this is not an isolated incident; hostile and personal remarks are a common feature of online discussion about Ukip-related stories and columns. My email inbox tells a similar story.

I’m not alone here. There is nothing unique or special about me, no individual quality that attracts such strong feelings. All of my colleagues who cover Ukip and Mr Farage regularly receive such vitriol, and several of them get it in much larger volumes than me.

[..] I’m increasingly convinced that Ukippers are one of the political groups whose members are disproportionately likely to go in for online bile. (Scottish Nationalists are another; I haven’t had the pleasure of their electronic company for a while, but in a previous job I got to know the “cybernats” fairly well.)

Kirkup’s piece is actually fairly generous – he goes on to praise Ukippers for their passion and commitment, although it comes across in a rather condescending way.

But there is no such generosity in this farewell to the Labour Party from Barbara Ellen, who took her leave after finding herself unable to cope with the fact that her preferred centrist wing of the party finds itself temporarily out of favour for the first time in decades.

Smarting from the “howling gales” of disagreement she encountered, Ellen raged:

Still the Corbynista circus refuses to leave town, with one troubling result being that the term “moderate” is starting to look tarnished and devalued – deemed too centrist, restrained, temperate, cautious. Never mind that this describes most of Britain – or that this culture of moderate-baiting is hounding people like myself (lifelong Labour voters) out of the party. Like many in the great disenchanted Labour diaspora of 2015, I don’t feel remotely “Tory lite”, but nor do I feel that there is a place for me in this brutal and monochrome, but also silly and over-simplistic, “with us or against us” regime.

And maybe there’s a faint hope that by leaving, by voting with your feet, you’ll finally quietly reasonably (moderately!) make your voice heard. It’s a sad scary moment when “moderate” starts feeling like a insult. I’d have thought that moderates were the bricks and cement of any political party – without them, the extremes become unmoored, sucked into howling gales of their own making. The leftier-than-thou can taunt the departing “boring”, “gutless”, “Tory lite” moderates all they like. In the end, we were necessary and we’ll be missed.

The media’s hysteria about boisterous and sometimes deeply unpleasant online political discourse reached its peak with their coverage of the Jeremy Corbyn campaign, with endless finger-wagging remarks about how the actions of a few anonymous knuckle-dragging trolls supposedly make a mockery of Corbyn’s “New Politics”.

Here’s the Spectator’s Sebastian Payne rending his garments in anguish at the fact that some unhinged Corbyn fans happen to say some very unpleasant things online:

It was meant to be about open debate and discussion, consensus through dialogue. But so far, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour party and the arrival of the so-called New Politics has resulted in division and a lot of abuse and bad feeling. In light of last night’s vote on Syria airstrikes, Twitter and Facebook have been exploding with extraordinary levels of comments and abuse that no one, MPs or otherwise, should be subjected to.

For example, hard-left groups such as Lefty Unity, have been using Twitter to stir up agitation against the MPs they disagree with.

The article goes on to cite a tweet listing the names of Labour MPs who voted for military action in Syria, and calling for party members to deselect them. Remarkably, Payne presents this as some terrible affront to civilised behaviour rather than precisely what should happen in a democracy: MPs making decisions in public, and the public judging MPs based on those decisions. The horror!

Unfortunately, our default reaction is increasingly not just to sit back and mock the individual trolls (justified), but to then also make the lazy assumption that the internet trolls somehow speak for the wider movement or supporter base (much less justified). Everyone enjoys seeing an ignorant verbal abuser put back in their box, but we are being intellectually lazy if we then go on to believe that people like the anonymous idiot silenced by JK Rowling are representative of general UKIP or SNP opinion.

Cybernat - Online Abuse - Trolling

Exactly the same phenomenon can now be seen in the United States, where supporters and media cheerleaders of Democratic establishment favourite Hillary Clinton are lightning-quick to accuse their opponents of sexism, and to refer disparagingly to supporters of socialist rival Bernie Sanders – alas, a white male – as the “Bernie Bros”.

Glenn Greenwald does a superb job of debunking the myth that Bernie Sanders supporters are uniquely sexist or misogynistic among political supporters over at The Intercept, writing:

Hillary Clinton is the establishment candidate. Therefore, she has far more supporters with loud, influential media platforms than her insurgent, socialist challenger. Therefore, the people with the loudest media platforms experience lots of anger and abuse from Sanders supporters and none from Clinton supporters; why would devoted media cheerleaders of the Clinton campaign experience abuse from Clinton supporters? They wouldn’t, and they don’t. Therefore, venerating their self-centered experience as some generalized trend, they announce that Sanders supporters are uniquely abusive: because that’s what they, as die-hard Clinton media supporters, personally experience. This “Bernie Bro” narrative says a great deal about which candidate is supported by the most established journalists and says nothing unique about the character of the Sanders campaign or his supporters.

And the same blindingly obvious truth hits closer to home with the media’s reaction to – and coverage of – Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign for the Labour leadership:

This exact media theme was constantly used against Corbyn: that his supporters were uniquely abusive, vitriolic, and misogynistic. That’s because the British media almost unanimously hated Corbyn and monomaniacally devoted themselves to his defeat: So of course they never experienced abuse from supporters of his opponents but only from supporters of Corbyn. And from that personal experience, they also claimed that Corbyn supporters were uniquely misbehaved, and then turned it into such a media narrative that the Corbyn campaign finally was forced to ask for better behavior from his supporters.

Time and again we see establishment candidates and their fans in the media reaching for the smelling salts and clamouring to tell us how insulted and distressed they are, simply because something they said or wrote happened to tap into the coarsing vein of popular anger against a political establishment which grows remoter and more self-serving by the day. But we should recognise this for what it is – a cheap attempt to shut down the debate by rendering certain political ideas unthinkable or unsayable.

It is very much in the interests of centrists within Labour and the Conservative Party that people should fear policies with a genuine ideological twist to them, be they from the Right or the Left. When their entire pitch to the electorate consists of fatuous promises to be the most competent managers of our public services, as thought Britain were nothing more than a rainy island of hospitals and job centres, anything which attempts to inject some inspiration, ambition or bold thinking into our political debate is to be greatly feared, and thwarted at all costs.

Hence the continual efforts to portray Jeremy Corbyn’s left-wingery, something which would have been considered perfectly normal in 1986, as beyond the pale of acceptable thought in 2016.

Hence the sneering, virtue-signalling attacks on Ukippers, who have been shamefully portrayed by the media as a bunch of grunting, uneducated, economically “left behind” losers who wrap themselves in the Union flag because they are somehow more scared of change than a “normal” person.

Hence the apocalyptic predictions of those opposing Scottish independence, warning that Scotland would become some kind of tartan-clad North Korea if they went their own way.

Now, this blog believes that Jeremy Corbyn’s left wing policies are utterly wrong for Britain, that UKIP does have a certain unsavoury element within it, and that Scottish independence and the breakup of the United Kingdom would be a tragedy. But I don’t for a moment assume that the virtue of these ideas can be judged in any way by the behaviour of their most crude and sociopathic advocates. And nor do I attempt to suppress the expression of those ideas by linking overheated rhetoric on social media to any one particular idea, candidate or party.

All of which makes you wonder: If the establishment are so self-evidently right, if the centrist parties and politicians do indeed have a monopoly on Good and Pragmatic Ideas, and if anybody who proposes the slightest departure from the status quo is a juvenile dreamer or a tub-thumping populist, why not let the arguments speak for themselves?

If the establishment have the facts so overwhelmingly on their side, why do they not limit themselves to patiently explaining why Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn, Donald Trump and Nigel Farage are wrong on the issues? And at a time when political engagement is falling and faith in democracy ebbing, are the Corbyn critics and Farage haters really saying that they would rather people were disengaged than back a radical candidate?

This blog would argue that there is a certain nobility in all of the populist insurgencies currently roiling the political landscape in Britain and America. Whether one agrees with them or not (and there is often much to vehemently disagree with), they are at least attempting to drag us out of a stale and timid political consensus which has delivered prosperity for many but also failed too many of our fellow citizens.

Or as this blog remarked last year:

It is very easy to sit smugly on the sidelines, throwing the occasional rock and taunting those who risk hostility, ridicule and contempt as they struggle to find a way to make our politics relevant to the people. Anyone can be a stone-thrower. But it’s another thing entirely to roll up your sleeves, join the fray, pick a side or – if none of the available options appeal – propose new political solutions of your own.

Ukippers and Jeremy Corbyn supporters have often been steadfast in their political views for years, and as a result have languished in the political wilderness while those willing to bend, flatter and shapeshift their way toward focus group approval have been richly rewarded with power and success.

The “Bernie Bro” phenomenon in the United States and the centrist Labour hysterics about the antics of a few offensive people are nothing but a choreographed backlash from the establishment, whipped up by people who are happy to hijack issues like feminism and use them for their own short-term political advantage, or do anything else to disguise the yawning chasm where sincerely held convictions and beliefs should reside.

So, when you see a bunch of prominent, well-connected people feigning horror at the way in which people with whom they disagree are comporting themselves on the internet, your first thought should not be to dismiss the idea or candidate whom the obnoxious trolls support, but rather to question the real motives of the people weeping and rending their garments because they have been spoken to rudely on social media.

It may turn out that the trolls are still wrong, as well as being obnoxious and offensive. But many times, it will likely transpire that the people making the most fuss about the way that a particular candidate or party’s supporters are behaving also happen to have the most to lose in the event that those ideas gain a wider following. And their sudden desire for comity and a more respectful public discourse is cynical at best.

So what do Jeremy Corbyn, Nicola Sturgeon, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and Nigel Farage all have in common?

They are all flawed.

They are all willing to say things which make them wildly unpopular with large swathes of people.

Without their boldness and tenacity, few of us would still be discussing their top issues and obsessions – be it genuine socialist politics, Scottish independence, immigration or the coming EU referendum – and our politics would be left to the stale old two-party duopoly.

And none of these politicians, whatever their flaws, deserve to be judged by the online behaviour of their most angry, antisocial supporters.

Bernie Sanders - Refutes Bernie Bros

Top image: “#GamerGate is the future of troll politics”, Techcrunch.com

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One Year Later, Are We Still Charlie?

Paris - Charlie Hebdo Anniversary - Je Suis Charlie

As we pass the one year anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris – the terrorist atrocity which prompted us to declare Je Suis Charlie in support of free speech – are we still Charlie, one year on? Were we ever?

This past week saw the first anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, a sickening assault on journalism and free speech, and the worst thing to happen to France until the Paris attacks of 13 November ensured that 2015 would end much as it started for Europe: in the shadow of Islamist terrorism.

At the time of the Charlie Hebdo shootings, many of us rallied to the cause of the small, satirical newspaper which found itself in the crosshairs of a primitive, totalitarian ideology, and we declared “Je Suis Charlie”.

It was a nice gesture, even if it wasn’t strictly true. Though David Cameron was eager to be seen marching arm-in-arm with other world leaders through the streets of Paris in support of free speech, those of us back in London knew that any British newspaper attempting to publish some of the satirical cartoons that Charlie Hebdo published would have been vilified, sued and shut down, and its editor would likely languishing in a British prison cell.

Things didn’t get much better as 2015 progressed, as Glenn Greenwald notes in his latest column for The Intercept:

It’s been almost one year since millions of people — led by the world’s most repressive tyrants — marched in Paris ostensibly in favor of free speech. Since then, the French government — which led the way trumpeting the vital importance of free speech in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo killings — has repeatedly prosecuted people for the political views they expressed, and otherwise exploited terrorism fears to crush civil liberties generally. It has done so with barely a peep of protest from most of those throughout the West who waved free speech flags in support of Charlie Hebdo cartoonists.

That’s because, as I argued at the time, many of these newfound free speech crusaders exploiting the Hebdo killings were not authentic, consistent believers in free speech. Instead, they invoke that principle only in the easiest and most self-serving instances: namely, defense of the ideas they support. But when people are punished for expressing ideas they hate, they are silent or supportive of that suppression: the very opposite of genuine free speech advocacy.

[..] In the weeks after the Free Speech march, dozens of people in France “were arrested for hate speech or other acts insulting religious faiths, or for cheering the men who carried out the attacks.” The government “ordered prosecutors around the country to crack down on hate speech, anti-Semitism and glorifying terrorism.” There were no marches in defense of their free speech rights.

Glenn Greenwald goes on to express his contempt for the fair-weather free speech advocates who are all to eager to shout their support for speech which offends people they happen to dislike, while simultaneously demanding that the authorities clamp down on speech which offends them or people with whom they sympathise.

Meanwhile, in Britain, the newly re-elected Conservative government was getting ready to “defend” free speech by expressing impatience with the fact that they did not have  more freedom to harass citizens acting in accordance with the law.

When David Cameron announced draconian new security measures, impatiently proclaiming “For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens ‘as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone'”, this blog retorted:

These measures have the look and feel of a side which feels unable to win the argument in favour of British and western values through open debate, and so seeks to impose them by force of law instead.

A truly free and liberal society would not need to take such draconian steps as requiring “extremists” (never defined, and certainly not necessarily convicted) to submit advance copies of public remarks to the police for review and censoring, an astonishing proposal. But our society is becoming less and less free by the day, opting instead for security and a quiet life.

And at its depressing heart, this is what it comes down to – a desire for cloistered security above all else. On the economy, on foreign affairs and now on terrorism, our politicians have decided that we are too frightened and worn down by the dangers and threats of this world to face our challenges as a strong, independent nation.

But government has not been solely to blame. The desire to trade liberty for a chimerical sense of security has been coming from the bottom-up, with an increasing number of citizens – particularly those on the Left who ostentatiously proclaim their concern for issues of “social justice” – insisting that core liberties such as the right to free speech should be curtailed when they negatively infringe on the feelings of another person.

This corrosive new development has its roots in academia and the university environment, where a generation of liberal professors espousing political correctness as their religion are finally beginning to reap what they sowed – a new generation of coddled adult baby students who require trigger warnings, safe spaces and dawn-to-dusk parenting by their colleges just to make it through the day.

These New Age Censors and their petty authoritarianism are toxic to free speech, and their growing influence has already resulted in calls to outlaw clapping and booing, tearful temper tantrums about dress codes, stifling ideas by labelling them ‘problematic’, the insistence on safe spaces and mandatory sexual consent workshops.

As I recently explained, deep down this has nothing to do with “social justice”, but instead is all about gaining power by wrestling control over the language and laying verbal land mines with the intention of destroying opponents who – regardless of how they actually behave – happen simply to say the “wrong” thing:

That’s where the New Age Censors, the Stepford Students, the resurgent activist Left step in, always watching over your shoulder and always quick and eager to tell you when you have crossed one of the many invisible lines that they are busy drawing across our political and social discourse. Only the telling always seems to take the form of a social media lynching rather than a friendly pointer.

When the rules over precisely what can be said and how it must be phrased become so fiendishly complex that we are all liable to fall over them at some point, it grants enormous power to the gatekeepers, those swivel-eyed young activists at the forefront of modern identity politics. Not only do they get to write the rules, they and they alone get to sit in judgement as to whether those rules have been violated.

[..] Who knew that the petty tyrants of today would be cherubic-faced, smiley student activists, chanting mantras about keeping us safe as they imprison us in their closed-minded, ideological dystopia?

As far as 2015 Year In Reviews go, all of this makes for depressing reading. Indeed there are many reasons to be concerned for the future of free speech and civil liberties in general, particularly when many of our fellow citizens seem intent on destroying our freedoms from within.

And yet there have been some good news stories too, providing small glimmers of hope. One such case has been the exoneration of a Northern Irish pastor, James McConnell, who found himself on trial for sending “grossly offensive” communications following a sermon in which he described Islam as “a doctrine spawned in hell”.

This was a spiteful sting by the prosecution. McConnell’s sermon – in which the 78-year-old pastor said some highly unpleasant and inflammatory things about Islam – had been recorded and then later posted on the internet, allowing the authorities to accuse him of “causing a grossly offensive message to be sent by means of a public electronic communications network”.

Too often, such show trials have resulted in conviction and a prison sentence, which in this instance could have been six months. But in this case, Judge Liam McNally, threw the case out, saying “the courts need to be very careful not to criticise speech which, however contemptible, is no more than offensive”. If only this legal interpretation was more widely shared and disseminated throughout the English and Scottish legal systems, from the UK Supreme Court on downwards.

But the truly pleasing aspect of this case is the fact that one of the people who spoke outside the court in support of James McConnell was a Muslim academic, a senior research fellow in Islamic studies at the Westminster Institute named Muhammad al-Hussaini.

Taking a brave stance in support of speech which he himself must have found very distasteful, al-Hussaini nonetheless defended Pastor James McConnell’s right to say hateful things about the religion of Islam.

The Guardian reported at the time:

Speaking outside Belfast magistrates court to hundreds of McConnell’s supporters, Muhammad al-Hussaini, a senior research fellow in Islamic studies at the Westminster Institute, said he was in the city to back McConnell’s right to free speech.

Hussaini said: “This is possibly one of the most important things at our juncture in history; it could be the make or break for the continued survival of our planet actually.

“Against the flaming backdrop of torched Christian churches, bloody executions and massacres of faith minorities in the Middle East and elsewhere, it is therefore a matter of utmost concern that, in this country, we discharge our common duty steadfastly to defend the freedom of citizens to discuss, debate and critique religious ideas and beliefs – restricting only speech which incites to physical violence against others.

“Moreover, in a free and democratic society we enter into severe peril when we start to confuse what we perhaps ought or ought not to say, with what in law we are allowed to, or not allowed to say.”

At a time when freedom of speech is just as much under attack from safe space zealots and our own government as it is from radical Islamic terrorism, it is especially important that we stand in solidarity with those who defend free speech, and particularly those who have the moral courage to defend the speech that they personally hate.

In this regard, civil libertarians owe a debt of gratitude to Muhammad al-Hussaini and others like him. For in his defence of the rights of pastors – or anybody else – to say what they please, so long as they do not actively incite violence against another, this Muslim scholar is doing far more to defend the ancient British and enlightenment values of freedom and liberty than

In fact, one could quite easily say that al-Hussaini is more authentically British (in terms of extolling and living by the values which we supposedly hold dear) than our own government, the grunting anti-Muslim far-right and most of the academic safe space crowd put together.

This is the unusual situation in which we now find ourselves, with a British population and government cowed simultaneously by Islamic terrorism and by Islamophobia seriously discussing banning “hate preachers” like Donald Trump (of all people) from entering Britain, while it falls to a Muslim academic to stand up in defence of the free speech which the West supposedly holds so dear.

This landscape is not encouraging; few of us passed the Charlie Hebdo Test when those terrible shots rang out on 7 January 2015, and fewer still would do so now, based on their words and actions since that heinous attack.

But when a nation begins to forget its own values and once dearly-held principles, it is of some consolation on this first anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo shootings to see the flame of liberty being kept alive in some unexpected places, and by unexpected – but very welcome – custodians.

Freedom of Speech - Free Speech

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The Daily Toast: Glenn Greenwald On Succeeding In Journalism

Glenn Greenwald

 

Glenn Greenwald gives an interview to Dillon Baker in The Freelancer, and offers his thoughts on succeeding in online journalism:

I think the most important thing is to avoid being a generalist. Don’t be willing to write about every single topic, because no person can be well-versed in every topic. If you write about stuff in which you are not well-versed and you don’t really have expertise, you’re just going to turn out mediocre product. And that’s going to affect how you’re perceived in the long run.

It’s so critical to figure out what you’re really passionately interested in. Because there’s a market for everything. There’s a huge Internet out there. Topics that seem really obscure can definitely, if you do it the right way, generate enough attention and interest to sustain you, and maybe even push you beyond that. It’s critical to just pick a few topics of which you have a great deal of passion, and develop genuine expertise in those so that what you’re producing can’t be found anywhere else except with you.

Wise words, which this blog will continue to strive to observe. This blog has long admired Glenn Greenwald for the passion and urgency behind his writing, and his principled stance against the secret surveillance state.

So what is the purpose of this blog?

Semi-Partisan Politics will continue to campaign – loudly and unapologetically – for the following goals and ideals:

 

Brexit: freedom from the European Union

Democracy and national sovereignty

Constitutional reform and a federal UK

Separation of church and state

Smaller, smarter government

Free speech, without restriction

Fighting timid centrism on the Right

Fighting empty virtue-signalling on the Left

 

If you agree with these objectives and have enjoyed this blog’s coverage over the past year, please do consider using the PayPal tip jar to make a small contribution:

 

 

Any donations will 1) be an ego boost, and 2) help me to do more original reporting, like the successful live blog of this year’s UKIP annual conference.

But most of all, please continue to click, like and share those articles that you enjoy with your family and friends. My loyal readers help keep me fighting the good fight.

 

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Yes, Terrorism Is A Price Worth Paying For Liberty

Civil Liberties Government Surveillance Terrorism

 

When determining how society should deal with people who have committed the most heinous crimes, one does not turn to the victims or their surviving family members for advice. And if one were to be so rash as to base Britain’s penal system on the vengeful feelings of grieving parents, spouses and children, there would be gruesome public executions every day in every town up and down the length of Britain, from Land’s End to John O’Groats.

So while we may feel every sorrow in the world for those who have been the victim of dastardly terrorist attacks, why do we give such credence to terror victims when it comes to formulating our approach to national security and civil liberties? While human compassion dictates that we offer our utmost sympathy to those who have suffered, allowing ourselves to be manipulated into making sweeping and draconian decisions based on heart-wrenching personal testimony is no way to run a country – whether we are talking about the NHS or government snooping laws.

Those in the media who report on these subjects for a living should know this best of all. And yet large swathes of the British press have spent today tacitly attacking the campaigning groups who defend our civil liberties, simply because they refuse to display the grovelling, servile fearfulness that begs government to take as many of our freedoms as they want in return for the illusion of greater safety.

The Times print edition, in an article bearing the sub-headline “outcry over campaigners’ attack on state snooping”, reports:

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